The quick answer to this question is simply that anyone who leads has a very large influence over those whom he leads. It is not that his sins are more wicked than others. But it is important to realize that when a leader sins – it has a greater effect because of the influence the leader has on those who are under him.
David’s sin was two-fold in this chapter of 1 Chronicles. First, he numbered God’s people on his own – something only God reserves the right to do. God is the One who calls for any kind of census over His people. When that happens, there must be a ransom payment for everyone who is counted. The amount of that is a half of a shekel.
That is what God commanded in Exodus 30.
The LORD also spoke to Moses, saying, "When you take a census of the sons of Israel to number them, then each one of them shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, so that there will be no plague among them when you number them. This is what everyone who is numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as a contribution to the LORD. Everyone who is numbered, from twenty years old and over, shall give the contribution to the LORD. The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than the half shekel, when you give the contribution to the LORD to make atonement for yourselves. You shall take the atonement money from the sons of Israel and shall give it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the sons of Israel before the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves." Exodus 30:11-16
What is this commandment supposed to mean? It is a very important principle having to do with how we see ourselves. God wanted every count of the people to include a ransom payment – because the only count that is truly going to matter in the end is those who are redeemed by His mercy and grace. This count was only to be done with a view to counting the “atoned ones” in Israel. Note that in this the rich and the poor are to pay alike (an illusion to God’s grace in salvation – all come on the same basis and with the same price of Christ’s blood atoning for their sins). But why would God do this?
Pride. Here is the reason why such a thing was to be done. Any gathering of God’s people – whether they are a nation like Israel or even a church in the present day – has a sinful tendency to number themselves and take pride in how big that number is. We should note that the counting of the church in Acts only was mentioned in regard to those who were being saved. When God refers to a number of people in Corinth – it was only in reference to those who belonged to Him in the city (i.e. those He was going to save there).
David was priding himself – and Israel was taking part in that same sin – by seeing how big they were – and it was not with a ransom payment. There was no reminder that this was God’s doing with His redeemed people. It was solely so David could know how big his army was. It should make us take a step back that even his general, Joab (not exactly known for his godliness) found the request odious in his sight. Oh, and the fact that 1 Chronicles 21:1 starts with the fact that Satan rose up and moved David to number Israel. Yeah, anything that involves being moved by Satan is going to be bad. The sin he was moving David to – PRIDE.
David’s pride was mirrored in Israel – and his descent into pride only was a horrible example for them to follow. Now before you protest too loudly, consider our own nation and the example of 2 presidents (even though the number is probably beyond 2). Currently President Trump is embroiled in a controversy over an adulterous affair that allegedly took place 10 years ago. We also know that President Clinton was adulterously involved with an intern in the Oval office during his presidency. Both of their examples have been horrible to the rest of our nation. The character of those who lead us DOES matter. It DOES matter that they honor their marriage vows. It DID hurt us that they did not. When our leaders dishonor marriage in this way it lowers the view of marriage throughout our nation. This is especially true when their defense of their actions asserted that it does not matter what a man does in his personal life. That cavalier attitude toward a wedding vow – will carry over to the people as they figure that if it is OK for a president to do this – it is OK for me too.
David’s sin cost Israel dearly – in spreading the same attitude of pride and disregard for seeing people in light of the atonement. The physical plague that came upon the nation mirrored the spiritual one that was growing in their hearts. What was interesting was that it ended when God came to the point where the Temple was going to be established. It ended when atonement was made – and that place was where atonement would be made again and again for centuries. It would be THE PLACE where the world would be reminded that God was going to build a people – not on the basis of national identity – but on the basis of a blood atonement.
It is interesting that we were reading this on the day before we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus in 2018. What a reminder of the seriousness of sin – the fact that in Adam (the very head of our race) we have sinned. There is a plague that has come from that sin that is here even today. The wages of sin is death – it has been since Genesis 3 through 1 Chronicles 21 – and even to March 31, 2018. The same plague wreaks havoc on the nations – costing them their lives. But there is an answer – just as there was one in David’s day. In the midst of our plague – we see the place where the ultimate sacrifice was made. We see, not an altar of stones, but a cross of wood. We see a lamb – but not a lamb of the flock, but the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world. We see a sacrifice – not one to be made again and again – but one made once for all. We see a counting – not one where we count ourselves for the purpose of competing against one another – but a counting of every tribe, nation, people, and tongue before the throne worshipping the Lamb of God.
You see the question is not, “Why was Israel punished for David’s sin?” The real question is this, “Why was Jesus Christ punished for OUR sin?” On this Resurrection Day Eve we should consider the astounding, infinite love of God that allowed His Son to be punished for our sin. Then we should lift our voices to sing the song that will echo through eternity.
"Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing." Revelation 5:12